Combining all the data that marketers already have on consumers with real-time location and automation would open up a new frontier for advertising. Do consumers want to live in that world?
The movie “Minority Report” paints a future where nearly all reality is augmented. In this Tom Cruise world, personalized messages bombard you from every screen and every surface. Author Alex Salkever has some concerns. When he thinks about What the Future, he’s thinking about the plusses and minuses for advertising opened up by an autonomous driven future.
GenPop: Why was this an important question to ask?
Alex Salkever: If we move into a world where we’re spending so much more time in automated cars, then the advertising will start to work itself into the platform somehow. It’ll be different from anything we’ve dealt with before because it will have so many pieces of information tied together in one place that are intellectually actionable in the moment.
GenPop: How will it be different?
Salkever: To a certain degree it’s like mobile advertising, but some things would seem weird on your phone. You’re walking downtown and it says, “Oh, why don’t you go to this bakery?” whereas in your car, you’re already moving and driving. I could totally see that flashing on the screen or something like that.
GenPop: In the data, people were generally supportive of some sorts of in-car communication, especially the functional reminders of appointments and the like. Does that surprise you?
Salkever: I was totally surprised. I thought the responses (against in-car communication) would be a little bit more vehement.
GenPop: It’s almost like there’s some acceptance that this is just going to happen.
Salkever: When you look at digital billboards, they’re in your face now. And people are seeing in movies these billboards that are customized to individuals. The really big risk that we should be talking about is the flipside of advertising that is almost always tracking and personalizing, and that starts to turn into scarier data collection and privacy issues than we’ve ever seen.
GenPop: I’ve seen some discussions of how your car could monitor your vital signs.
Salkever: If you die or have a heart attack, you want the car to stop. Makes perfect sense. On the other hand it also could probably tell if you get really amped up as you go past the Krispy Kreme. That’s the promise of a lot of these technologies, where we compromise privacy for convenience or safety.
GenPop: The personalization opens up possibilities in location-based advertising. Say you’re on a road trip, and roadside attractions like “The world’s largest doughnut” can hit you with ads. It’s destination marketing but very targeted toward people driving past that destination.
Salkever: Right, because your car knows what you like to do, where you like to stop and what you’ve done. Your car will not only say, “Hey, here’s the largest doughnut,” it will also say, “You’re going through Pittsburgh. Here are three doughnut shops that we would recommend based on Yelp.”
GenPop: That can go too far, right?
Salkever: There’s the risk of letting the marketers running amok. Look at your inbox. You probably have some pretty good filtering software. What would you do if you did not have that filtering software to shut off all of the promoters of the things that you don’t really want? Left to their own devices the advertisers and the marketers will probably overdo it. It tends to be their bias.
GenPop: If more people move toward a subscription-based car model, as many suggest will happen, riders could have an option to pay extra for the ad-free model or get a discount in exchange for seeing more marketing material while driving.
Salkever: For example Uber lets you stream your Pandora or Spotify in its cars. That’s not exactly what we’re talking about, but if the car becomes a subscription service, all kinds of personal interaction is possible. Personalization always has some sort of trade-off, like privacy.
GenPop: In the data we saw that people who are more positive toward self-driving are also more positive toward every type of advertising that might exist in that world.
Salkever: If you come at it from a mindset that advertising is annoying, you really may not like what’s going to happen in cars. The people who buy into self-driving cars seem to buy into the fact that in that world, it’s going to be a platform in which people will communicate.
GenPop: In our interview with Marshall Brown (page 25), we talked about the potential to lose the serendipity of travel. Will advertising help or hurt that?
Salkever: You become a hostage to all the data points that are recorded. It’s hard to capture serendipitous encounters or experiences. Your car may not know how to recommend [these things] to you. They may be drowned out by the noise.
GenPop: How so?
Salkever: Say I’m passing The Giant Artichoke [restaurant and attraction] in Castroville, California, but I don’t see it. I’m looking at the screen. The car may not know I like artichokes, but I might see a sign on the side of the road about this pretty crazy attraction, and I’ll take a look. We are in an attention economy, and that’s true for serendipity as well.
GenPop: Right, the car can’t necessarily know all our tastes or that we like fake roadside artichokes even if we don’t like the actual food.
Salkever: A lot of the scientific research shows that preferences change. We think differently of someone the first time we meet them and after we’ve known them for six months. Our tastes evolve over time. I didn’t used to like lobster. If my car had been consistently trying to steer me away from lobster, but somebody else in my life said, “You gotta try this lobster bisque,” and I find it’s amazing. That’s why I’m really kind of cautious and leery. The real problem that I see with this kind of marketing is that it conflicts with our humanness.